All the Light We Cannot See | Study Guide

Anthony Doerr

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All the Light We Cannot See | Part 8 : 9 August 1944 | Summary



Fort National

On the afternoon of August 9, 1944, the shelling of Saint-Malo abruptly stops. About 4:00 p.m., a single shell from an American field howitzer, improperly ranged, sails over the city and hits the northern parapet of Fort National. Nine of the 300 French captives are killed instantly.

In the Attic

Without the bells of St. Vincent's church, Marie-Laure cannot gauge how long she has been trapped in the attic. Her thirst and hunger are acute. Yet she dares not leave or make a sound. The intruder has not left.

She hears him use the toilet on the sixth floor, right below her. His groans and mutterings alert her that there is something wrong with him. Moments later she hears the springs of her mattress squeak.

The attack on the city starts up again. Driven by her hunger, Marie-Laure decides she must risk opening one of the two cans of food with the paring knife and brick. She ignores the voice of her father in her head reminding her of the intruder below. She uses the whistling scream of the shells and their detonation to mask the sound of the brick striking the knife.

The can contains cooked green beans. With the water they have been boiled in, she quenches her thirst.

The Heads

Werner cannot get the radio to work. All he can raise on it is static. Perhaps the cellar is too deep or the rubble above them blocks any signal. Perhaps there is something broken in the radio that he has not spotted. The battery inside it is nearly dead. After that the only power source left will be the American 11-volt battery he has found. That can supply one more day of static or one more day of light from Volkheimer's field light.

Volkheimer sits with his rifle beside him. He has taken to turning his field light on to shine on two shelves in the far corner of the cellar. The shelves are lined with eight or nine white plaster heads, skillfully fashioned. Werner imagines he can still see them when the light is turned off, "silent and watchful and unblinking."


When von Rumpel awakens, the sheets and his clothes are soaked sweat. He is weak and cannot see well. Crawling to the end of Marie-Laure's bed, he studies the model of Saint-Malo. Outside the window the city is burning and smashed, but this house still stands, untouched. And it is the one house missing from the model.

He knows for certain that Etienne did not have the model when he was arrested and sent to Fort National. The only other possibility is that the blind girl has it.

In von Rumpel's fevered mind, the fact that the real house still stands is proof that the stone is here, and it is proof of its power. He is dying, and the stone offers life. He must keep looking and will start again in the kitchen. This time, he will search more methodically.


Marie-Laure hears the creak of mattress springs and the sound of the German going downstairs. Outside it has begun to rain. She thinks of the two buckets of water just inside the door of her room and decides to risk leaving the attic to get a drink. The sound of the rain will mask her movements, if she is careful. She tucks the empty bean can in her pocket.

Cautiously, she creeps out of the attic and the wardrobe doors. She crosses the bedroom to the hall. In her bedroom she can smell traces of the German, a sweet odor with something rotten underneath. She finds one of the buckets and drinks her fill. Then she fills the bean can with water.

As she crawls back toward the doorway, Marie-Laure hears the man three or four stories below. He is ransacking one of the rooms. Then her hand touches something familiar—her book! Clasping the book to her chest, she makes it back to the wardrobe, slips inside, and closes the doors gently behind her.

The Beams

The shelling of Saint-Malo continues. In the darkness of the cellar, Volkheimer tells Werner the story of his great-grandfather, a sawyer from Prussia who helped cut down the trees that supplied masts for ships. Werner tells him that, where he is from, the trees they dug up were prehistoric ones, in the form of coal. "I was desperate to leave," Volkheimer says. When Werner replies, "I was, too," Volkheimer asks, "And now?"

The Transmitter

With hopes that someone somewhere has a radio that will hear her, Marie-Laure starts up Etienne's strange machine. Then, with the microphone in one hand, she opens her book with the other, finds the lines with her fingers, and begins to read aloud.


Werner and Volkheimer have been trapped for four days. As Werner fiddles with the transceiver, trying to find anything other than static, a girl's voice suddenly speaks into his ear. She is reading something.

Werner listens intently, fearful of losing the signal. Then abruptly the girl stops reading and says in an urgent hiss, "He is here. He is right below me." Then the broadcast goes silent.

In the darkness Werner finds Volkheimer and tells him what he has heard. But the man is unmoved; he seems to have given up. Like Werner, he is starving to death.


In Part 8 the storylines of Marie-Laure and Werner are on the brink of converging. In addition, the reader gains more insight into the character of Volkheimer, which in turn highlight similarities between his character and Werner's. Marie-Laure's resourcefulness comes into play once again with decisions that ultimately will save her life. And finally, von Rumpel's obsession to find the Sea of Flames shines a light on the battle between rational and irrational forces in the world. Though Werner has patched up the radio enough to receive transmissions, it picks up only static until Marie-Laure begins her broadcast. At last a direct connection is established between the two characters. Marie-Laure, alone and in danger, is reaching out to the world, not unlike her great-uncle Etienne long ago with his broadcasts of Henri's recording. When the girl's transmission reaches Werner, it casts him back in memory to Children's House, listening to the Professor and "clinging to a dream he does not want to leave." Picking up the broadcast while entombed in the cellar electrifies him with hope. At this point the reader may also hope that this connection means the two characters are fated to meet and, therefore, to survive.

Once again, destiny and choice seem to be working in tandem. The invisible lines connecting these two characters originated long ago. On the one side, there is Henri, Etienne, and their recordings that reach Werner in distant Zollverein. On the other there is Henri's son, Daniel, his granddaughter, Marie-Laure, and a war that drives the two to Etienne's home in Saint-Malo. Yet Werner and Marie-Laure's choices now determine the path for their final meeting. Life, the author suggests, is influenced by both factors.

In Part 8 Volkheimer explains why he came to the Nazi training school at Schulpforta. His reasons, it turns out, are not so different from Werner's. He was desperate to escape what seemed at the time a dull, backward life. When Werner says he, too, was desperate, Volkheimer asks, "And now?" His question reminds the reader of his better qualities. His regret is like Werner's own.

In an earlier conversation, Werner asks if Volkheimer knew the stories boys told about him, "the Giant." Volkheimer's answer highlights something else he shares with Werner. He says it isn't much fun being feared and always being asked how tall he is. It seems Volkheimer's great size made him an outsider, much the same way Werner's intelligence and special skills set him apart. Perhaps Volkheimer recognized this similarity, which helps explain his protectiveness toward Werner. This adds another touch of humanity to Volkheimer's complex characterization.

Another similarity between the two men comes to light before Werner picks up Marie-Laure's transmission. The situation in the cellar seems hopeless, and Werner wonders if they even deserve to be saved after what they have done. Volkheimer seems to be entertaining similar thoughts as he sits in a chair staring at white plaster heads on two shelves. There is something reproachful about the way they stare back with blank eyes, silent, watchful, and unblinking. They are like stand-ins for those killed by his hand.

In the attic of Number 4 rue Vauborel, Marie-Laure once again demonstrates her resourcefulness and courage. Food and water have become a necessity. After mentally arguing with her Papa, she boldly takes matters into her own hands, knowing she will die if she does not. Ultimately she realizes someone out there must have a radio and that someone might hear her and come to her aid. Recalling what she knows about Etienne's strange machine, she turns it on and then begins to read.

The rational and irrational forces of the world collide inside the house. In the attic Marie-Laure holds imaginary conversations with her Papa in which he adopts the irrational view that the Sea of Flames' legendary powers have kept her safe. Their make-believe exchange suggests that the supernatural can no longer be ignored; that indeed, it may exist and influence outcomes as much as actions based on logic and reason. By now von Rumpel would fully agree with this idea. He is near death and zealously clings to the belief that the diamond possesses curative powers. He sees the fact that Etienne's house is still standing as proof of the stone's magic. At this point in the story, rational and irrational forces are on equal footing. They can drive events in one direction or the other.

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